Deaf Dog Psychology
Dealing with issues faced by most deaf dogs
For all dogs, the main lesson during puppy-hood is normal dog behavior through socialization with their mothers and littermates. Puppies learn lessons in dominance and submission by roughhousing and getting responses such as barks, yelps of pain, growls, and even nips. A deaf puppy in a litter may go through the same socialization along with his littermates but generate a completely different understanding of normal dog’s dominance/submission behavior. This discrepancy may solely be caused by the lack of the sound factor in the deaf puppy’s social learning. In this sense, your dog may never completely understand normal social behavior and may also frequently be misunderstood by other dogs. This may even eventually lead to him being attacked.
Regardless, socialization throughout any dog’s life is vital since they are pack-oriented animals. Therefore, you should by no means shield your deaf dog from other dogs, but you should be wise and responsible in choosing the right companions for your dog to socialize or live with.
Deaf dogs benefit greatly from cohabiting with other animals, which could include cats or other hearing dogs. Cohabiting with other hearing animals benefits them because deaf dogs eventually compensate for their inability to hear by taking cues from the behavior of people or other animals around them. It is especially important that if their companion is to be another dog, the companion dog be non-aggressive and has to display a lower energy level than your deaf dog. Otherwise, it could add to the stress level of your deaf dog. In general, introduction of a companion dog to your deaf dog should be done only after there is an established and strong bond of trust between you and your deaf dog.
You may find that your deaf dog displays a higher level of neediness. When he sleeps or rests, he might tend to insist on lying with his body touching or leaning into yours. He may do this even to the point of having to touch you when you’re cooking! After a while, you might start to feel that your dog is encroaching upon your personal space. This behavior is common in deaf dogs and may be attributed to the fact that they compensate for the lack of hearing by having constant physical touch with you so that they can be alerted if you move from your original position. Jacob the deaf Boston compensates by waking up frequently from his sleep to keep track of his surroundings and me. Whether this needy behavior should be tolerated or encouraged is arguable. It is important to aid your dog in being comfortable and aware of his surroundings, but encouraging needy behavior can lead to undesirable separation anxiety. My advice is to discourage needy behavior and insist that your dog doesn’t lean on you or feel that he has to touch you all the time. He should be able to sleep and rest independently in his own spot. This allows him to build his confidence in being alone. You can also help by making sure you gently alert him when you leave the room or the house.
Some deaf dogs hardly make a peep because they can’t hear themselves while some deaf dogs bark incessantly and don’t know they are making such a racket. Either way, most owners will agree that when their deaf dogs vocalize they can sound rather odd. When Jacob the Deaf Boston vocalizes, he sometimes sounds like a drowning seal. The question to answer is: why do dogs bark? A dog’s bark or other dog vocalizations are forms of communicating either to alert their pack or sometimes to vocalize their emotions. Stanley Coren’s book, “How to Speak Dog”, is an excellent resource on how to interpret the emotions that your dog is communicating to you through his vocalizations.
A deaf dog barks incessantly because they have pent up frustration inside and they are displaying separation anxiety. It is very difficult to correct the barking because they can’t hear what they’re doing but we can certainly capitalize on the fact that they can feel what they’re feeling when they’re barking. To prevent them from doing this undesirable behavior, you can take steps to prevent them from developing separation anxiety by not making a big event of your coming home or leaving the house. Make your leaving the house a pleasant event hiding treats around the house for him to find, or giving him a chew toy. When you arrive home, don’t greet your dog excitedly. Instead, get yourself settled around the house and then acknowledge your dog only when he has calmed down. Teach your dog the stay command and practice it frequently (see section on “Communicating With Your Deaf Dog”). Most importantly drain your dog’s pent up energy by taking him out daily for long walks. At first, it would be most effective to calmly walk him before you leave the house. Establishing this calm state and tiring him out is one of the most effective methods of ensuring that he will nap after you leave the house.
Deaf dogs, especially puppies or newly introduced dogs tend to display a high level of anxiety, mostly due to their tendency to be startled easily. They also haven’t yet developed a sense of trust in their surroundings or with the people around them. Imagine for a second that you were a deaf pup. Your world is one dominated by smells and you’re constantly being bumped around by your littermates or touched by humans in all directions. It would just be that much easier if you could anticipate when something is coming your way by hearing them before they either touch you from behind, or enter your field of vision abruptly. Such is the reality of deaf dogs. Every time they let their guard down when they fall asleep or when they’re not paying attention, they get startled and jump when they are abruptly disturbed. This is why deaf dogs that are startled constantly develop stress and anxiety, which may lead to aggressive behavior.
Your first and most important mission as an owner of a deaf dog would be to help your dog overcome his anxiety. You will want to instill in your dog the association of your touch with good things, and his surround his life with predictability.
- At first, allow your dog to wake up naturally on his own. You could alert him of your presence by your scent alone. You can do this by wearing a signature perfume, for example. As you come home from work, or walk by your sleeping dog, the scent of your perfume will waft into his nose and he will soon awaken. After awhile, you can wake your dog up by walking up to him wearing your familiar and signature scent, touching him very gently, and popping a delicious treat into his mouth.
- Next, establish a routine with him. Walk the same route everyday so he doesn’t feel the added anxiety of new situations. He will learn to anticipate the events of his everyday life because of this routine. Although it is indeed beneficial for dogs to be challenged by new surroundings, you should only slowly factor in novel encounters once you have established that he is comfortable with his new life.
- When you are socializing with your dog, let him learn that touch is a positive thing. Touch every part of his body from his ears and muzzle, to his belly and the in-betweens of his toes. If you feel confident and comfortable with your dog, you could also run your fingertip along his teeth or open his mouth so you can look inside. This exercise prepares your dog to be comfortable with maintenance procedures that you will perform on him like nail clipping, teeth brushing, and also for veterinary visits. You could give him treats as you are petting him. Next, give him a deep muscle massage by working your fingers firmly into his shoulder muscles and run your fingers from the top of his head to all the way down to his back. Do this several times. This exercise is very relaxing for dogs. Finally, lay him on his back calmly as you pet him in calming and comfortable strokes.
- You will also begin training him and teaching him hand commands (see section on “Communicating with your deaf dog”
Needless to say, you and all your family members have to learn not to do anything that will startle the dog. Things you might do that will startle your dog include: stamping on the floor to get his attention; waking him up abruptly like plopping down heavily on the couch when he’s sleeping soundly on it; and scaring him when he comes around a corner. Remember, you would want your dog to associate your touch with good things, so you should never ever punish your dog by abusing him physically (see section “Communicating With Your Deaf Dog”). Most importantly, if your dog happens to startle because of something you did or an event that occurred, do not cave in to your instincts and reach over to pet him. This is because you don’t want to reward him for being afraid, even though your intentions are to soothe him. In fact, don’t touch him at all but look away slowly and act bored. You might even force a yawn. Your dog will read your reaction as a signal that nothing grave is happening and he will follow your lead and calm down (see section on “Communicating With Your Deaf Dog”).
In general, try to ask yourself if your actions are likely to startle your dog or soothe him, and then adjust your behavior accordingly. Small but routine efforts on your part will result in large benefits for your dog.
In this article, dogs are referred to as “he/him” only because I write my articles with Jacob the Deaf Boston in mind.
By Serene Lai – Pets.ca writer